Joou Himeko Dah: Interesting name. You read it in one go? That's terrific! Thanks so much.

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GamgeeFest: I have to admit I rather ignore Merry. But don't worry! He'll be here next time.

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Chapter 19 – I Miss You Dearly

Frodo barely remembered what had happened after he jumped into the back of Gandalf's cart and fell asleep there. Torrents of rain that came afterwards and Gandalf's shouts that seemed to be directed to him were lost in a blurry chaos. Still, he suffered the dampness and chills that engulfed him and slowly memories came to him.

Frodo could almost make out the warmth and strength of Finbar's arms and hands surrounding him, protecting him from the sharp needles of rainwater. He could also sense the jolts as the man jogged along the path in the woods, finally reaching, as fast as he could, the cabin where he lived.

The hobbit could not help but shiver; yet he curled up restfully in his cocoon of the blanket in Finbar's embrace before he felt himself being laid down in a big cot. Frodo stirred a little but otherwise he was still asleep.

Hands peeled the layers of Frodo's clothes, leaving him bare for a while before quickly wrapping him in a thick towel, rubbing the rain from his body. Frodo sighed and stretched with his eyes closed, testing if he could move away from the hands and curl back into his foetal position. He heard murmurs but no one and nothing restrained him. Frodo mumbled thankfully and sank back into the abyss of his slumber.

He was left alone for a moment before angry fingers were shaking him awake. His lids felt heavy but he managed to open his eyes. Frodo smiled as he caught sight of the beloved face.

"Papa?"

"How dare you sleep in the middle of my story, Frodo?" Drogo's voice was a thunder but Frodo knew it was a tease. He yawned widely, teasing back.

"Frodo!" But the tickles at his waist were no longer a mock. They were real – and Frodo cried: laughing, begging for mercy.

"Please, Papa! No – no more dozing of. Promise!" Frodo's merry laughter echoed through the smial. Frodo heard steps approaching and looked up. It was his mother. "Mama, help!"

Primula landed a wet smooch on Frodo's brow, smiling and shaking her head. "It's your own doing, love. You deserve everything you got."

Frodo groaned and lifted both his arms, slinging them around his father's neck, kissing his cheek and loving him. Exhausted from laughing, he slowly drifted back into sleep.

In his sleep Frodo dressed himself, putting on, one by one, his white shirt, plain waistcoat, and auburn breeches. Then he was draping himself in a thick sheet. He could not understand what that was for but he did not mind either. Predictably, in a short time he had felt quite hot.

Frodo decided to step out of his house to get more cool air and sat himself on a bench in his – or rather his father's -- orchard. He glanced around, drinking in the greenness about him but failing to comprehend the sudden tightness in his throat and the grief that suddenly struck him. Frodo pulled the sheet tighter almost unconsciously – oh, it does come in handy – and drew shaky breaths. What had made him feel so miserable? He was sitting there and waiting – was he waiting for someone?

Frodo threw misty gazes to the shrubs along the fence, berry bushes nearby, and some apple trees in a distance. Was he waiting for someone? What did he usually do here?

Then pictures started to take shape. They showed Frodo a spread blanket, an offering of complete and generous food laid there. On two sides of the blanket happy faces beamed: Drogo, Primula, and himself. They were chatting merrily and feeding one another.

Frodo choked. He stood up, staggering back. He should have remembered. How couldn't he? He had promised himself not to… No. It was more that he was asking himself if he could do things as he had always done – before the passing of his parents. Before this, right after Drogo and Primula's funeral, he'd wondered if he could ever walk in this garden again, the place where they – he and his parents – used to spend time together. He wondered if he could sit in the soft leather armchair where his father usually sat with him on his lap. Could he do that, with eyes peering into the painted smiles on his father and mother's pictures hanging above the dresser? Frozen smiles – for their owners would never return to wipe them out or even to change them into wider mirth.

Frodo struggled against his covering sheet but it would not budge. He pulled and pulled, gasping in despair, almost breaking into sobs of frustration. Hands were on him again, trying to keep the fabric in place, restraining him this time. Frodo could not suffer the stifling heat anymore – he had to get out of the blanket!

"Papa, Papa!" He cried out, knowing that he was in the middle of a dream: that his father was reading him a story and that he was falling asleep again. His father might be truly angry this time as he insisted that Frodo be wrapped in a coverlet. He had to wake up and find that it all was a dream – the realization that his parents had passed away. Frodo flailed his hands, reaching for… for…

A wide palm stroked his cheek gently, bringing Frodo to full wakefulness. He gazed up with bleary eyes, realising with great disappointment the face that did not belong to his father.

It took some time for Frodo to fully grasp that the face was that of his Uncle Bilbo. The elderly hobbit watched him, mixed emotions written across his furrowed brow.

"Frodo…" A whisper trembled out from Bilbo's wrinkled lips. "How are you, my dear?"

TBC

AN: Dedicated to my beloved late father. Thanks, Anna, for the beta!